Declassified memos: CIA feared Clinton was 'stirring up' false Russia collusion narrative
Suspected goal was to "vilify Donald Trump" and distract from Clinton's own controversies in 2016 election.
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Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday declassified two documents showing President Obama's CIA feared in summer 2016 that Hillary Clinton was "stirring up" a false Russia collusion narrative to "vilify" Donald Trump and distract from her own controversies heading into the election.
The memos indicate the CIA first received the information through the monitoring of Russian sources and deemed it credible enough to brief Obama on it in July 2016 and to refer the intelligence to the FBI in September 2016 for possible investigation.
The warnings came as the FBI was just starting its Crossfire Hurricane probe into now-disproven Trump-Russia collusion, aided by the Clinton campaign-funded dossier by Christopher Steele. They are likely to bolster GOP claims the James Comey's FBI ignored clear evidence that the allegations were a political dirty trick and not evidence of a counterintelligence threat.
"Per FBI verbal request, CIA provides the below examples of information the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE fusion cell has gleaned to date," the September 2016 referral from the Agency to the bureau read. "An exchange [redacted] discussing US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning US presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering US elections as a means of distracting the public form her use of a private email server."
Two months earlier, then-CIA Director John Brennan briefed Obama, according to handwritten notes written after the briefing.
"We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [redacted],” Brennan notes read. “CITE alleged approved by Hillary Clinton a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service."
The documents provide corroboration to a letter Ratcliffe first sent Congress last week with the explosive revelation.
Officials said Ratcliffe was authorized by President Trump to released the documents over the weekend while he was hospitalized for coronavirus treatment.
CIA Director Gina Haspel has opposed releasing some of the information on the grounds that the agency could not fully determine whether some of the Russian intelligence that the U.S. intercepted was misinformation, officials said. Ratcliffe has decided to release the materials in part because they provide insight into possible red flags the FBI ignored in pursuing a flawed Russia collusion probe, the officials said.
A U.S. intelligence official said while the CIA could not fully verify the allegations in Russian intercepts it did not assess the intelligence to be Russian disinformation and believed it was solid enough to brief Obama and refer to the FBI.
Ratcliffe is also exploring declassifying evidence requested to be released by House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The evidence includes a referral Nunes made to the CIA inspector general in 2018 about flaws in the U.S. intelligence assessment about Russian interference as well as evidence showing what Christopher Steele's primary sub-source for his dossier told the FBI and what the bureau knew about the sub-source's ties to Russia.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows hinted at that declassification on Monday.
Trump has "already tasked me with getting some declassification rolling in a follow-up to some of the requests that Nunes and others have made," Meadows said.
Nunes said he believed the evidence – including three interview the FBI did with Steele's sub-source confirming the dossier was flawed – is explosive.
"The documents that are underlying what we now have seen — I've only seen a few of those — they're definitely smoking guns," Nunes told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday. "That information definitely needs to be made available to the American public.
"The American public needs to see the three reports that we know about, at least from the Democrats' Russian spy that they hired," he added." So those are additional documents that we need to see."
Democrats have already previewed their planned attacks, suggesting the release of evidence just a month before the election was political and possibly infected with Russian disinformation.
"It's very disturbing to me that 35 days before an election, a director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian rumint," said Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Democrats' arguments that Clinton wasn't behind the Russia collusion probe are strongly challenged by the evidence.
Steele testified he told the FBI in his first meeting about the dossier in July 2016 that Clinton had authorized his research. Bank records and testimony showed Steele's dossier was paid for by the law firm representing Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
And former FBI General Counsel James Baker testified the bureau was inundated with unverified allegations of Trump-Russia collusion from Clinton sources, including from long-time Clinton associate Cody Shearer.
Baker described the pressure campaign on the FBI by Clinton associates as unusual and uncomfortable.
"I had a jaundiced eye about everything, yes," Baker testified. "I had skepticism about all this stuff. I was concerned about all of this. This whole situation was horrible, and it was novel and we were trying to figure out what to do, and it was highly unusual."